The spinal cord, being one of the most sensitive areas of our body, is extremely vulnerable to injury. Unlike other parts of your body, the spinal cord does not have the ability to repair itself if it is damaged, a fact that makes a spinal injury potentially life-changing.
A spinal cord injury occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord either from trauma, which is the most common cause, or loss of its normal blood supply, or compression from tumour or an infection. Around 1 billion people around the world suffer from spine pain, a staggering figure, considering how few of those actually seek medical help for the ailments.
Types of spinal cord injuries
Spinal cord injuries are described as either complete or incomplete. In a complete spinal cord injury, complete loss of sensation occurs, which affects and impairs the muscle function in the body below the level of the injury.
In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some function below the level of the injury is retained, while in almost all instances occurring in either of these types, both sides of the body are affected equally.
Why are spinal cord injuries dangerous?
A spinal cord injury is one of the most dangerous and life-impairing injuries that can be sustained by a person. Depending upon the location,the completeness and the severity of the injury, spinal cord damage can lead to paralysis and may even be life-threatening.
Studies reveal that spinal cord injuries in the cervical region are the most severe kind, and may lead to complete tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia, is paralysis caused by illness or injury that results in the partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso). Prevention of a serious spine injury is the best way to protect the spinal cord from being damaged, and for you to ensure you live a happy, unimpaired life.
Research reveals that spinal cord injuries occur more frequently in people ages 18-35, typically as a result of motor vehicle accidents. The second highest age group in which spinal cord injuries occur is the elderly, from ages 55 and upwards. Most of them are caused by falls, which typically lead to damage of the spine and spinal cord.
While certain situations and circumstances cannot be foreseen no matter how many safety precautions one takes, there are some pre-emptive measures that you can take to increase safety and decrease your chances of sustaining an injury to the spinal cord.
General Prevention for Spinal Cord Injuries
- Always wear a seatbelt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle, to protect yourself from the unlikely event of an accident. This is very especially important for children, who need to be supervised under parental guidance. Make sure to properly install child safety restraints in the vehicle, if you haven’t already done so
- Never drive a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or ride with anyone who has, because DUI severely impacts reaction time and judgement in event of emergencies
- Avoid distractions while driving and pay close attention while you are on the road. Texting and phone calls can wait, and so can status updates. Avoid impulsive phone use until you safely arrive at the destination
- Keep your home clean and as obstacle-free as possible. Slips, trips and falls happen frequently in the home, and an innocuous tumble can lead to multiple complications. It is vital that you keep the floor clear of hazards that could cause a nasty fall. This is especially important for the elderly, in whose case the fall can lead to serious consequences
- Installing handrails on staircases may also help to improve the safety quotient of your home, thereby reducing the probability of accidents
- Never move someone who has a suspected spinal cord injury. Let emergency professionals evaluate the injured person and follow the necessary protocol. Moving someone with a spinal cord injury could further damage the spinal cord, leading to an irreversible medical condition
- Always wear a helmet and all suggested safety equipment before entering the arena. Safety equipment issued to sports players plays a make or break role in preventing injuries, including spinal cord injuries. It is important to replace worn or damaged protective equipment, for they could aggravate the nature of injury
- Always check out the area where the sporting event is about to take place. Make sure the area is clear of any debris or other hazards that could cause a fall
- Learn all of the rules of contact sports. Following the rules may prevent injury, especially to the spinal cord. This is especially crucial in cases of high contact sports, like rugby, football or ice hockey, wherein the likelihood of sustaining an injury is greater
- Avoid extreme sports. Extreme sports such as bungee jumping, sky-diving, and base-jumping are very dangerous. Accidents which do not prove fatal may cause lifelong spinal cord damage. If you do choose to partake in these activities, understand that you are assuming the risk of your injury, and that you must take all precautions possible
- Supervise kids at all times. Children like to climb obstacles, and a fall from one could result into a serious spinal cord injury
- Inspect playground equipment. Make sure it is intact and in safe, working condition before letting children play
- Trampolines and open swings can be plenty of fun, but can lead to serious injury. Make sure to no risky manoeuvres are undertaken by kids
Swimming Pool Safety
- While diving into a swimming pool, always make sure there is enough water so that you do not suffer from an injury to the head or the spine, from hitting the bottom of the pool. It is a good rule of thumb to not dive into water less than 10-12 feet deep
- Never push anyone into a swimming pool. The sudden jerk could lead to a serious injury including spinal cord damage
- Keep the area surrounding a swimming pool clear of hazards and well-lit.
We understand that while this may not be a fool-proof guide to prevent spinal injuries from occurring, following the above steps can help you greatly mitigate the risk of occurrence. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.